REVIEW: The Good Negro (Goodman Theatre)

| May 12, 2010 | 1 Comment

Bringing humanity to an inconceivable time in history

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Goodman Theatre presents
 
The Good Negro
 
Written by Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by
Chuck Smith
at
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through June 6th  tickets: $22-$71  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A despicable act by the police impassions a spontaneous response by the community. It’s really not that black and white. The Goodman Theatre presents The Good Negro, a play about the back story on the movement to end segregation. Three black leaders are looking for a publicity moment to instigate a non-violent protest against discrimination. A four year old girl and her mother are arrested for using the good-negro11 restroom for whites. Because the mother is ‘a good Negro,’ attractive and well-spoken, the incident is prime to rally the troops. This illustration of history would have been poignant enough. A Good Negro adds in other complexities like wire-tapping, marital infidelity, and the KKK – becoming a multi-dimensional story of the internal and external strife of the civil rights movement. Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson tells the powerful untold story of the politics… government, hierarchical, sexual… that interfered in the quest for racial equality in the 1960’s.

Under the direction of Chuck Smith, the cast makes an unimaginable time in history relatable. Nambi E. Kelley’s portrayal of a mother (Claudette Sullivan) in anguish is heart-breaking. Billy Eugene Jones appeals as the flawed charismatic leader James Lawrence. Struggling with his own identity issues, Teagle F. Bougere (Minister Henry Evans) effectively engages the audience with his motivational sermons. In minister mode, Bougere adds a little comedy relief as he tells a late intermission returner to ‘sit down.’ Although it’s unclear whether his character is ‘a good Negro’ or not until Act II, Demetrois Troy is perfect as the socially awkward, behind the scenes guy Bill Rutherford. Tory O. Davis (Pelzie Sullivan) portrays the simplicity of his character with surprising depth. Karen Aldridge (Corinne Lawrence) elicits applause in a pivotal scene of strength. Dan Waller (Gary Thomas Rowe, Jr.) exploits the lunacy in a KKK recruitment speech based on scientific facts that ‘colored people’s blood can kill.’ The spooks are stereotypical ‘by the book’ nonsense with Mick Weber playing straight-laced and John Hoogenakker as the wise cracking sidekick.

 

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Set designer Riccardo Hernandez has gone floor to wall churchy with wooden planks covering every stage space. It effectively places the audience in a pew to watch the drama. Embedded along the back wall are strips of lighting – Robert Christen’s haunting lighting design illuminates a cross shape during congregation scenes to build the religious ambiance. Throughout the show, projected fortune cookie-like slogans prophesize a scene with ‘This is the something’ and ‘Do what you have to do.’ Mike Tutaj (projections designer) uses a biblical font to reinforce the secular foundation of the movement. Tutaj also flashes iconic imagery of photojournalist Charles Moore to set the time period. Powerful!

Realizing that, less than fifty years ago, discrimination led to unbelievable acts of cruelty to the black community – makes The Good Negro an important show to see. We can’t forget the sacrifices civil rights leaders made to forge the evolution of thought on equality. The Good Negro is an important illustration of an inconceivable time in American history.

  
 
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission

Extra Credit:


 

Production Personnel

Cast

KAREN ALDRIDGE (Corinne)

TEAGLE F. BOUGERE  (Henry)

TORY O. DAVIS  (Pelzie)

JOHN HOOGENAKKER (Paul)

BILLY EUGENE JONES  (James)

NAMBI E. KELLEY (Claudette)

DEMETRIOS TROY (Rutherford)

DAN WALLER (Rowe)

MICK WEBER (Steve)

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Team

TRACEY SCOTT WILSON
Playwright

CHUCK SMITH
Director

RICCARDO HERNANDEZ
Set Design

ROBERT CHRISTEN
Lighting Design

BIRGIT RATTENBORG WISE
Costume Design

RAY NARDELLI &JOSHUA HORVATH
Sound Design

JOSEPH DRUMMOND
Production Stage Manager

T. PAUL LYNCH
Stage Manager


Before the show

It’s a Petterino’s sandwich for a pre-show nosh and post-show drink. Petterino’s, 150 N. Dearborn, offers a dinner-show valet option for $14. That’s $5 cheaper than the Goodman suggested lot nearby. Lashawnda gladly hands off her car to the valet. Since it’s Monday night, most of the theatres are dark and my favorite bartender Eddie is enjoying the break. Petterino’s is only half-filled but the staff is still buzzing around to ensure guests make the 7 o’clock curtain. Lashawnda and I both go with soup and salad dinner. The soup du jour is a flavorful red snapper with a sherry topper. It pairs nicely with a glass of Malbec and a chopped salad. We easily dine within the forty-five minute timeframe and our server is expedient about cashing us out. Foreshadowing of things to come…

I meet up with Theatre Bob from chicagotheatreaddict.com and his opera singing sidekick Herb for a post-curtain drink. Petterino’s is hosting only a handful of post theatre drinkers circa 9:45. We are in full play mode when are drinks arrive… with the check. Beyond expedient! We know our rights and continue a swap of tales about the latest shows. By 10:30, it’s obvious that our pending departure is the only thing holding the staff prisoner. Trying to be good Caucasians, we make ‘the movement’ home.

Three words: Being good herself, Lashawnda expresses her three word sentiment about the show, “Thank God 2010!”

    
    

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Category: 2010 Reviews, Goodman Theatre, Katy Walsh

Comments (1)

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  1. Bob [CTA] says:

    Lovely review of a powerful show, and even lovelier meeting you, FourthWalsh!

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